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Growing Dianthus Barbatus (Sweet William) and Other Garden Pinks

Sweet Williams have pretty fringed flowers that grow in a cluster on top of a long stalk. Dianthus Barbatus is a lovely variety of the dianthus species. These growing tips will help you to get it going in your garden.

Dianthus Barbatus is also known as Sweet William. It is a tender perennial, often grown as a biennial in most hardiness zones.


Carnations and pinks have a strong fragrance with a spicy scent. Sweet William, however, bears only a mild fragrance, and some varieties have no scent at all.

Planting guide for Dianthus Barbatus

Dianthus Barbatus – is a tender perennial.  It is often treated as a Biennial with leaves the first year and flowers the second before dying off.  My Dianthus Barbatus has flowered for two years here in NC.

To grow Dianthus Barbatus, follow these tips:

  • Size is 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide
  • Zones 3 to 9
  • Full to partial sun
  • Even moisture
  • Moderate grower.  Low maintenance.
  • The flowers are edible with a mild flavor.  Used as a garnish.
  • Propagation is by seed, cuttings, or division, but seeds of cultivars will not breed true.
  • If it is planted from seed after the last frost, it will flower in the second year. If it is planted in flats before the last frost and then transplanted it may flower in the first year.

The leaves of this variety of Dianthus are fragrant and the plant attracts butterflies and bees.  This lovely variety is one that I got from the farmer’s market. It has a huge 3 inch flower head and is very different in appearance than the lower growing pinks that are more commonly grown.

Dianthus barbatus Sweet William

Varieties of Dianthus

Dianthus is native to the mountains of Europe and there are over 300 species of the plant. The common names are pinks, Sweet William and carnations.

Generally speaking, pinks grow fairly low to the ground, and bloom profusely. They have an aroma like cloves. Most pinks are grown as perennials.

Sweet William is a biennial, which is sown one year and blooms the next.  Sweet William often self-seeds, though the small baby plants do not always stay true to the parent.

The ground cover pinks usually grow to about 1 foot tall, but Sweet William is an upright specimen that will grow to 24 inches or more.

Here are some more photos of Dianthus with the smaller head size. They give a wonderful idea of the variety of colors available.   Growing conditions are similar to the directions above, except for the size, of course.  Photos are courtesy of American Meadows. Dianthus Grenadine MixDianthus Grenadin.  This is the traditional clove scented carnation.  It is hardy and blooms all summer.  Great plant for cut flowers.Dianthus Purple PicoteeDianthus Purple Picotee. Sweet fragrance all summer long. Nice in containers.Dianthus Starburst Dianthus Starburst. Short foliage. Perfect for a border or container. Dianthus Indian CarpetDianthus Indian Carpet. This mix creates a colorful carpet of unique white, pink, and red that bloom from spring into summer. Lovely fragrance and perfect for the front of a garden bed.

Dianthus RedDianthus Red –  The height is only 8 inches tall so it’s perfect for containers.  The plant blooms all summer long. The deep red color is a great contrast to the dark green foliage.How To Grow Sweet William - Dianthus Barbadus

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